The Scandal That Ruined Paula Deen's Food Network Career

There once was a time when Paula Deen sat pretty on her throne atop the culinary world. Dubbed the Queen of Southern Cooking, Deen used to be the Food Network's darling. She went from a humble sandwich peddler in Georgia to one of the country's highest-paid celebrity chefs. In 2012, Forbes crowned her as the fourth highest-earning celebrity chef, having raked in $17 million in revenue, with a huge chunk of her earnings coming from her slate of TV shows. But just a year later, Deen's food and media empire came crashing down, with many brands choosing to distance themselves from the suddenly disgraced celebrity chef.

Deen has quite an impressive rags-to-riches story. Following her divorce, with a mere $200 to her name, she, alongside her sons Jamie and Bobby, began preparing and selling packaged lunches to businesses and residences throughout Savannah. The Deens eventually caught the Food Network's attention, leading to a lucrative deal. Surrounded by culinary giants like Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck, Deen was lauded for her relatability and unsophisticated cooking. "I think the feeling is people are looking for that comfort, that feeling of being safe and having the food they grew up with," she told The Los Angeles Times. "Not fancy food, but food that makes you feel good."

Deen became a beloved national figure, but by 2013, she had become somewhat of a pariah. Accusations of racism led to her ultimate dethronement — and to this day, she has yet to reclaim her former glory.

She faced racism accusations

In 2013, Lisa Jackson, a former employee of Paula Deen, sued her and her brother, Earl Hiers, for racial and sexual discrimination. Jackson accused Deen of using racial slurs in the workplace, a claim Deen acknowledged, even admitting to past use of the N-word, notably during a robbery incident. "But that's just not a word that we use as time has gone on," she explained in a deposition, as reported by CNN. "Things have changed since the '60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior."

While the racial discrimination claims in the lawsuit had been dismissed that same year, with The New York Times reporting that a judge concluded that Jackson was only "an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination," the controversy set forth a decline in Deen's commercial partnerships. In addition to losing her shows on the Food Network, a dozen other companies ended their affiliations with her, including Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Caesars Entertainment, J.C. Penney, Sears, and Walgreens. Random House's Ballantine Books, the publisher that contracted her to write a series of cookbooks, also decided against releasing her forthcoming titles.

Deen, for her part, issued a public apology for the use of offensive language, but it did little to help her reputation. "I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I've done. I want to learn and grow from this," she said at the time. "Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable ... Please forgive me for the mistakes that I've made."

Paula has since attempted to return to her former glory

While Paula Deen's exit from the Food Network made it seem like she had decided to lay low, what she did was exactly the opposite. Far from disappearing, the disgraced chef continued to operate her restaurants, and the following year, she even managed to land a deal with a media company that decided to continue backing her many ventures.

Deen has yet to be successful in reclaiming her throne in the cooking world, but she has kept her hands full with back-to-back projects. She went on a cooking tour across the country for "Paula Deen Live!," became a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars" (but ultimately lost to Bindi Irwin), branched out into the pet food business, launched a subscriber-only channel, kickstarted a clothing line, established a podcast, released more cookbooks, starred in brand new shows, even returned to "MasterChef" as a guest judge.

Despite her efforts, however, she recognizes that she no longer holds the same status in the eyes of many. But she's determined to get back to the public's good graces, and it doesn't seem like she'll stop until she does. "I'm fighting to get my name back," she once told People. "I used to have dreams that I lost everything. And when it finally happens, you think, 'I'm still alive.'"